Workers Hammer No. 197

Winter 2006-2007


NEP v 'market reforms'

(Quote of the Week)

In 1921, due to the ravages of World War I, the civil war and widespread famine, the revolutionary government in the Soviet workers state was forced to introduce the “New Economic Policy”. This had similarities to the “market reforms” in China today, which the bureaucracy claims will lead to communism, just as they claim to be building “socialism in one country”. In contrast, Lenin regarded the NEP as a necessary and temporary retreat in the overall struggle to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat and extend it internationally, while warning of the dangers it posed. Especially important was that the young workers state maintained a strict monopoly on all foreign trade, unlike in China today.

The New Economic Policy means substituting a tax for the requisitioning of food; it means reverting to capitalism to a considerable extent — to what extent we do not know. Concessions to foreign capitalists (true, only very few have been accepted, especially when compared with the number we have offered) and leasing enterprises to private capitalists definitely mean restoring capitalism, and this is part and parcel of the New Economic Policy; for the abolition of the surplus-food appropriation system means allowing the peasants to trade freely in their surplus agricultural produce, in whatever is left over after the tax is collected — and the tax takes only a small share of that produce….

The issue in the present war is — who will win, who will first take advantage of the situation: the capitalist, whom we are allowing to come in by the door, and even by several doors (and by many doors we are not aware of, and which open without us, and in spite of us), or proletarian state power?...

The whole question is who will take the lead. We must face this issue squarely — who will come out on top? Either the capitalists succeed in organising first — in which case they will drive out the Communists and that will be the end of it. Or the proletarian state power, with the support of the peasantry, will prove capable of keeping a proper rein on those gentlemen, the capitalists, so as to direct capitalism along state channels and to create a capitalism that will be subordinate to the state and serve the state.

— VI Lenin, “The New Economic Policy and the tasks of the political education departments”, 17 October 1921, printed in VI Lenin Collected Works, Volume 33 (Lawrence & Wishart, 1976)